Remember life before children?
You’d see a child screaming in the supermarket and you said… “I’d never let my child do that!”
Or you’d hear a parent say “If you just sit quietly for a few more minutes I’ll buy you a treat afterwards” and you said… “I’d never bribe my child.”
Or you’d see a mom who’s carrying a crying baby pop a soother in the baby’s mouth and you said… “I’d never use a soother with my baby!”
You probably had a long list of “I’d nevers.”
And then you had a baby.
Try as you might, you probably have ended up doing things that you were sure you never would.
I know I did.
I was never going to use a soother but, when my daughter was a baby, she HATED her car seat. We lived a half hour out of town in the country and she would scream the whole way. I tried the traditional “back seat on your knees and drop your breast into your baby’s mouth” yoga pose, but I just couldn’t hold it long enough. And it wasn’t safe.
So I broke down and used a soother. She was so much happier.
I had let go of one of my “nevers.”
Then there was the time she and I were working on a “behavioural change” together. We weren’t getting anywhere with it and I finally said, “If you can do this for two weeks, you can choose a toy for yourself.”
There went “never” number 2.
One of my big “nevers”… I swore never to use was “bribery” in my child rearing.
My daughter worked hard and fulfilled her end of the arrangement. And of course, what did she choose for her toy? A Barbie doll.
Now a deal is a deal. She did what she committed to, so I had to do what I committed to. I just had to let go of the resistance inside me. She got her first Barbie.
There went never number 3… I was never going to buy her a Barbie doll. (short note: she eventually had about four Barbies and played with them for about a year or two, and that was that).
I also said that I would never get angry and yell at my kids. But shortly after my daughter was born her “big” brother, who was just over 2 ½, hit her.
Now in all genuine honesty, I had never gotten angry at him before. Annoyed, frustrated, yes. But not really angry.
With all my teaching experience with young children, my Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, my college teaching, La Leche League training, etc. I had a deep understanding of child development and a wide range of positive, connected parenting techniques that worked.
But in that moment, something inside of me snapped.
Maybe it was the primal protective reaction of the mother of a newborn, the deep-seated “Mama Bear” in me. Whatever it was, I found myself overtaken with anger and I picked him up and yelled, “Don’t do that!”
I’m sure that doesn’t seem so terrible. I didn’t hit him or hurt him or shame him.
Yet, what shocked me was the anger I felt towards my sweet little boy (baby, really, at that age) whom I loved so very much. I thought I would always stay calm and centred and have positive, creative ways to deal with all situations. And up to that point I had.
So this was something new for me, and I had to let go of another of my “nevers”
I could go on and on and give you an extensive list of “True Confessions” of incidents that happened over the many years of parenting my children wherein I didn’t live up to my personal standards.
What I really want to address is what I see happening with parents all the time and the internal pressures they feel and how it concerns me.
Parenting is hard. It’s just plain hard.
It’s non-stop. It’s demanding and it challenges you in a million ways. It’s lonely in our culture and parents often feel lost and confused. Few of us have a clear cultural lineage that tells us how to parent.
And, because parenting is hard, parents are continuously searching for answers.
They search through an ocean of quick and easily available information out there and as a result, they often feel like they are drowning in conflicting information.
When my children were young, there were a few parenting books. Now there are probably millions. Every day new books come out promising to bring peace and good behaviour to your household.
Then there’s the internet.
How many times have you jumped on your iPhone and Googled “what to do when my baby/child does……..” when your baby or child does something that you don’t know how to respond to?
As a result of all this easy access to information, parents have come to doubt their own inner capacity to parent. They believe that someone “out there” knows the “right way” to parent. And that there is a “right way.”
So, with that insecurity, many parents grab on to a specific parenting approach and develop a long list of “nevers” for themselves…
My child will never have white sugar, or watch TV, or wear pink.
I will never say “no” to my child.
I will never make a decision without consulting my child.
I am the boss in this relationship and I will make the decisions and rules.
I will never let my child play with a plastic toy.
I will never “bribe” my child.
I will never “yell” at my child.
I will never etc etc etc.
When parents cross their “never” line and do what they said they never would, they are wracked with guilt and shame, are embarrassed to tell their friends, (who probably have the same “nevers”) and end up believing that they aren’t good parents.
The problem in parenting, and in life, in general, is that living with “absolutes” gives you, and the people in your life, little wiggle room to just be human. Like life in general, parenting is messy.
Now, I’m not saying that anything goes in parenting. Because it doesn’t. It really matters what we do as parents.
And what we do not only impacts our own children; how we raise our own children impacts the world.
There are some fundamentals that really matter:
It’s our responsibility to parent with love and thought and consciousness.
It’s our responsibility to give our children our time and to strive to always maintain a deep level of connection with them.
It’s our responsibility to take care of them physically and do our best to keep them well nourished, safe, and healthy.
It’s our responsibility to give our children a strong sense of self-worth and of the worthiness of others.
It’s our responsibility to be responsive, affectionate, and to give our children the skills to be in the world.
It’s our responsibility to discipline and guide our children positively and non-violently.
These responsibilities are broad, and can be dealt with in many different ways. There is no call for perfection.
The only possible “nevers” are those that would hurt, harm or abuse children.
I believe it is important to take an inventory of the “nevers” that you are carrying with you.
- Are they really important or are they trendy “nevers” of the day?
- If they are important, are they really “nevers” or can they be “most of the times”or “I will do my best to’s?”
- Are they really helpful for you and your family?
- Do they mesh with your values or are they someone else’s values?
- Are they contributing to the health, happiness and well-being of you and your family or do they feel like a straitjacket inhibiting your spontaneity?
- Are they enhancing or diminishing your connectedness with your children?
Once you do your inventory, talk your “nevers” over with yourself, your partner if you have one, trusted friends or maybe a coach or counsellor. Let go of the ones that don’t really work for you. Keep or modify the ones that do.
This is a call for kindness to yourself to give yourself parental “wiggle room”. To remember that no one, no one, no one is a perfect parent, and whenever you think you’ve figured it out, your children will change and challenge you in new ways.
And remember… if you do something you feel badly about, first forgive yourself. Apologize to your children if it is appropriate and look at the situation to see what you can learn for next time.
There will always be a next time and an opportunity to learn and grow. That’s just how parenting works.